There’s plenty of conversation underway about the shape of things to come for Tennessee Football, and a big part of that conversation is what the Vols will have coming back next season. Some of the frustration with Butch Jones right now centers around the idea that the Vols couldn’t capitalize on this year’s talent; even though injuries hurt this team in ways that are difficult to quantify, Tennessee is still likely to have its best representation at the NFL Draft since 2010. How does Team 121’s talent compare to Team 120’s?
This is a rough first draft of a 2017 depth chart for the Vols. The assumptions are mine, and they include Derek Barnett and Alvin Kamara to the NFL but Josh Malone staying in school. Where I didn't have a remotely clear idea on the second team, I just left it blank (for instance: I think our backup center next year would still be one of those other seven listed offensive linemen).
|POS||1st Team||YR||2nd Team||YR|
|QB||Quinten Dormady/Jarrett Guarantano||Jr/RFr||Dormady/Guarantano||Jr/RFr|
|RB||John Kelly||Jr||Carlin Fils-aime||So|
|WR||Josh Malone||Sr||Josh Smith||Sr|
|WR||Jauan Jennings||Jr||Marquez Callaway||So|
|WR||Tyler Byrd||So||Brandon Johnson||So|
|TE||Ethan Wolf||Sr||Jakob Johnson/Eli Wolf||Sr/So|
|LT||Brett Kendrick||Sr||Drew Richmond||RSo|
|LG||Jashon Robertson||Sr||Venzell Boulware||RSo|
|RT||Chance Hall||Jr||Marcus Tatum||So|
|DE||Kyle Phillips||Jr||Darrell Taylor||RSo|
|DT||Kendal Vickers||Sr||Kahlil McKenzie||Jr|
|DT||Shy Tuttle||Jr||Quay Picou/Alexis Johnson||Jr/Sr|
|DE||Jonathan Kongbo||RJr||Dimarya Mixon||Sr|
|LB||Darrin Kirkland Jr.||Jr||Cortez McDowell/Elliott Berry||Sr/Sr|
|LB||Colton Jumper||Sr||Quart'e Sapp/Daniel Bituli||RSo/So|
|CB||Emmanuel Moseley||Sr||Marquill Osborne||So|
|CB||Baylen Buchanan/Justin Martin||So/Sr||Buchanan/Martin||So/Sr|
|S||Todd Kelly Jr.||Sr||Stephen Griffin||Jr|
|S||Micah Abernathy||Jr||Evan Berry/Nigel Warrior||Sr/So|
A few things jump out right away:
- Look at all those upperclassmen! The Vols haven't had a two-deep like this since the Fulmer days, the byproduct of the Top 7 2014 and 2015 recruiting classes that could lose only Barnett and Kamara from the roster that took the field at Vanderbilt. If this first draft becomes a final draft (it won't) by changing only Josh Smith and Justin Martin into the starting lineup and Dormady wins the job, Tennessee could start upperclassmen exclusively. There may be unanswered questions about recruiting going forward, but for at least one more year Tennessee can put a ton of recruiting stars and experience on the field.
- Quarterback will get all the press...because quarterback always does, and because Josh Dobbs will be difficult to replace. Dormady has been number two for two years, while top-ranked dual threat QB Jarrett Guarantano redshirted this fall. If there's a QB on the roster that can put the ball on target, look out: the only graduating pass catcher is backup tight end Jason Croom. If Josh Malone comes back and we do in fact have a capable quarterback on the roster, the passing game could lead the way in 2017.
- ...but the bigger concern is pass defense. The run defense was horrific in November, but at least there we can blame the loss of all those defensive tackles, and the Tuttle/McKenzie combo will be back along with Vickers. But at end the Vols not only lose the irreplaceable Derek Barnett, but the next two options in Corey Vereen and LaTroy Lewis both graduate. This depth chart assumes Kyle Phillips and Jonathan Kongbo can and will both slide back outside on the defensive line after being pressed into service at tackle due to so many injuries this year; the more you believe in recruiting stars, the more you like that option. But it's hard to find many options to like at corner. The Vols have am imbalance of talent at safety by comparison, but I don't know if any of those kids can make the transition (or if a player like Tyler Byrd will get a look). If the Vols can't rush the passer and can't cover in the secondary, they'd better hope the offense is capable of scoring all those points again next year.
- We don't have to assume any true freshmen, but if we let recruiting rankings be our guide keep an eye on Ty Chandler at RB, Will Ignont at LB, and perhaps a number of options at defensive tackle if things go south there again. Are there quality corners left on Tennessee's board?